The Town of Bridgeport Board approved the reclamation permit application made by Pattison Sand Company at their meeting on Wednesday, March 24.
The permit is needed for the operation of a frac sand mine on lands leased from township supervisor Rodney Marfilius and his wife Sandra, and adjacent property owners Earl and Amber Pulda and Lee and Joan Pulda.
The meeting lasted just 22 minutes and began with the announcement that it was a closed meeting and no public input would be allowed.
Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick was on hand at the board’s request to remove anyone who attempted to speak. Why?
“Because of the plan commission meeting on the fourteenth,” township clerk Linda Smrcina explained later. “Because there were so many outbursts.”
No removals were made at the Wednesday night meeting. Bridgeport Township Supervisor Rod Marfilius, while present, abstained from voting.
“The town’s attorney (Todd Infield) said if we didn’t approve we would be open to a lawsuit from the landowners and PSC and there was no way we could win,” said John Karnopp, the chairman of the township board. According to Karnopp, the board could only make sure conditions such as financial assurance were met.
Infield confirmed that the law was very clear on what the board could do in relation to the reclamation permit. It could only deny the permit under very specific instances, all of which had been determined by the engineering report to have been met.
Infield explained that the greater discretion in approving or denying the permit had lain in the hands of the plan commission.
“The plan commission had more discretion in making their decision than the town board,” Infield said.
According to Infield, the board in addressing the reclamation would have to find a reason to deny. The plan commission, on the other hand, had to find reason to approve.
“In my mind, the plan commission could have (denied the permit),” Infield said. “They would have had to come up with specific reasons for their decision, but they certainly had greater discretion in making their decision.”
Edie Ehlert, co-coordinator of Crawford Stewardship Project, felt the board did go over the reclamation permit in greater detail than the conditional use permit had been reviewed by the township’s plan commission.
“The reclamation was discussed in greater detail at the previous (board) meeting,” Ehlert said. “They were presented with many questions at that time, which they referred to the plan commission, assuring the folks attending that they would be answered at the plan commission’s meeting the next evening.”
That plan commission meeting, held on March 14, did not allow public comment. Nor, according to Ehlert, were those questions addressed during the three-hour meeting culminating in the approval of the conditional use permit for the mine.
The failure to answer questions, a failure denied by Smrcina who sits on the Bridgeport Township Plan Commission, as well as acting as town clerk, has left a number of citizens frustrated.
“People here are upset,” said Anita Mezera. “We’re not being allowed any input. They didn’t listen to the public at all.”
“We residents, who will be living with this mine 24/7 for decades to come, will receive absolutely no benefit from it, but are being forced to live with all of the negative impacts on our daily life,” stated Rodney Fishler, a neighbor to the mine.
“Bridgeport Township officials could have used their zoning to deny or at the very least put in substantial conditions on the mining operation to help the residents cope with the effects,” said Ehlert. “The question is, why didn’t they?”
The Towns of Bridgeport and Utica were the only Crawford County municipalities to promptly pass an ordinance after the county non-metallic mining moratorium ended on October 17, 2012. Utica passed the county’s model ordinance with plans to continue to work on it. Bridgeport deemed their zoning adequate and passed a reclamation ordinance.
The proposed mine, the first in Crawford County, will be sited on 305 acres with 120 acres to be actively mined adjacent to the Wisconsin River. Because of its proximity to the river, it must still clear a final hurdle – permit approval by the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board. At their April 11 meeting, the board is expected to review a viewshed analysis project, created by the UW-Madison Cartography Department, demonstrating potential visual impacts of the proposed frac sand mine as seen from the Wisconsin River during leaf-on conditions.